By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – In the latest ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “The Price of Gold,” former figure skater Tonya Harding hardly comes off as a sympathetic figure. Video footage from her younger days shows a brash confidence and affinity for trash talk, while more recent interviews reveal a definite degree of anger and jealously toward the rival, Nancy Kerrigan, whom most fans of the sport loved more.
All in all, the feature provides a comprehensive look into one of the most infamous personalities in sports history. In the kneecapping of Kerrigan just prior to the 1994 U.S. Championships, Harding was considered culpable by many.
Harding still denies prior knowledge of the attack of Kerrigan, an assault planned by Harding’s ex-husband and carried out by him and several associates. Harding eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction for not telling police what she learned after the fact, saying her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly threatened to kill her if she said anything.
The documentary thoroughly explored the unstable and abusive situation Harding weathered growing up. Her family had little money, so Harding trained on an ice rink in a mall and made her own costumes. Video of Harding as a teenager shows her taking a phone call from her mother after a performance only to hear her mother say the routine was terrible. Harding, again on other footage, characterized her mother as abusive and as an alcoholic.
Once Gillooly and his co-conspirators carried out the attack on Kerrigan, Harding’s life changed forever. The sloppy nature of the so-called hit, plus the bragging of those involved, made it easy for law enforcement officers to pin down Gillooly and the others. Quickly, then, suspicion shifted to Harding.
With Kerrigan out of the competition, she won the U.S. Championships, and the build-up to the Olympics began. Media crews followed her night and day, apparently even resorting to setting off her truck’s alarm and then calling a tow company to remove it so Harding would be forced to come outside her apartment. Her public training spot also became a target as thousands gathered to watch her prepare for the Olympics.
ESPN’s film spent a great deal of time contrasting the characters of Kerrigan and Harding. Kerrigan’s family was not rich by any means, but she got sponsorship deals that allowed her to get costumes made for free and to star in commercials. She was the golden girl, graceful and elegant, perfectly fitting the stereotypical image of a figure skater.
Harding, on the other hand, relied on power more than grace, more on jumps than artistry. She would sometimes skate to rock or rap music. The general impression of many in the figure skating community was that Harding, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, did not fit the mold for what a female figure skater should be.
As Gillooly and the others were shuffled through the legal system, they implicated Harding in the plot. Harding was going to be banned from competing in the Olympics, but she filed a lawsuit, so she ended up getting to go. Kerrigan skated what those in the sport remember as an incredible program, but she received the silver medal. Harding struggled, and in the long program, she had an issue with her skate, and she did not medal.
Toward the end of the documentary, ESPN shows footage of Kerrigan’s reaction to getting second place, pouting and griping as the skaters stood around after the event. Harding, now all grown up, spoke strongly about that moment, revealing that – involved in the plot of not – she still feels bitter and angry toward her old rival.
Kerrigan declined to be interviewed for “The Price of Gold,” so it is possible the feeling is mutual.